Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness

Top Idea

Read the top idea on

Other Favorite excerpts

Our brains are actively reweaving experiences

volunteers in one study were shown a series of slides depicting a red car as it cruises toward a yield sign, turns right, and then knocks over a pedestrian.5 After seeing the slides, some of the volunteers (the no-question group) were not asked any questions, and the remaining volunteers (the question group) were. The question these volunteers were asked was this: “Did another car pass the red car while it was stopped at the stop sign?” Next, all the volunteers were shown two pictures—one in which the red car was approaching a yield sign and one in which the red car was approaching a stop sign—and were asked to point to the picture they had actually seen. Now, if the volunteers had stored their experience in memory, then they should have pointed to the picture of the car approaching the yield sign, and indeed, more than 90 percent of the volunteers in the no-question group did just that. But 80 percent of the volunteers in the question group pointed to the picture of the car approaching a stop sign. Clearly, the question changed the volunteers’ memories of their earlier experience, which is precisely what one would expect if their brains were reweaving their experiences—and precisely what one would not expect if their brains were retrieving their experiences.

when George Bush was ultimately declared the winner, pro-Gore voters were less devastated and pro-Bush voters were less elated than they had expected to be (a tendency you’ve seen before in other chapters). But third and most important, a few months after the election was decided, both groups of voters remembered feeling as they had expected to feel, and not as they had actually felt.

How weather condition reflect on perceived happiness

in one study, researchers telephoned people in different parts of the country and asked them how satisfied they were with their lives.25 When people who lived in cities that happened to be having nice weather that day imagined their lives, they reported that their lives were relatively happy; but when people who lived in cities that happened to be having bad weather that day imagined their lives, they reported that their lives were relatively unhappy.

You overestimate how bad you will feel after something really bad would happen to you

“When people are asked to report how much they think about the past, present, and future, they claim to think about the future the most.24 When researchers actually count the items that float along in the average person’s stream of consciousness, they find that about 12 percent of our daily thoughts are about the future.25 In other words, every eight hours of thinking includes an hour of thinking about things that have yet to happen. If you spent one out of every eight hours living in my state you would be required to pay taxes, which is to say that in some very real sense, each of us is a part-time resident of tomorrow.”

Dig More

Imagine a condition of not being able to imagine future

PSYCHOLOGIST: What will you be doing tomorrow? N.N.: I don’t know. PSYCHOLOGIST: Do you remember the question? N.N.: About what I’ll be doing tomorrow? PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes, would you describe your state of mind when you try to think about it? N.N.: Blank, I guess . . . It’s like being asleep . . . like being in a room with nothing there and having a guy tell you to go find a chair, and there’s nothing there . . . like swimming in the middle of a lake. There’s nothing to hold you up or do anything with.

A mechanism of the evolution. If a gene promotes a "means of transmission" it will spread.

Evolutionary biology teaches us that any gene that promotes its own “means of transmission” will be represented in increasing proportions in the population over time.

...any belief—even a false belief—that increases communication has a good chance of being transmitted over and over again.

The Shakers were a utopian farming community that arose in the 1800s and at one time numbered about six thousand. They approved of children, but they did not approve of the natural act that creates them. Over the years, their strict belief in the importance of celibacy caused their network to contract, and today there are just a few elderly Shakers left, transmitting their doomsday belief to no one but themselves.